LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Leigh Hunt
Lord Byron and Mr. Leigh Hunt.
Morning Chronicle  No. 18,206  (21 January 1828)
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The Morning Chronicle.

Number 18,206.] LONDON, MONDAY,  JANUARY  21,  1828. [Price Sevenpence.


Sir, I feel great reluctance in calling the public attention to the subject of this letter; but as I have no alternative, it is, at all events, some relief to me to be able to do so through the medium of your generous columns.

I need not inform a man of letters, that the extracts which have been sent to The Morning Chronicle and other papers, out of the work of mine just published, were not made by myself. If they had been, they would not have subjected me to the conclusions which have been pretended by some, and appear to have been really drawn by others, respecting the spirit of my intercourse with Lord Byron. I have been represented as a man capable of violating the confidence of friendship, and giving an unfavourable portrait of a host who had treated me with nothing but kindness. I will venture to affirm, Sir, that nothing, to a person of my turn of mind, could be more impossible. No man holds in greater horror than I do the violation of the sub iisdem trabibus—the sacred enclosure of private walls. I have not even dared, in my time, to enjoy the delight I should have found at more than one table, purely because I knew that it would be impossible for me afterwards, as a public man, to hold any opinion of my host but a grateful one. It might be expected that I should despise an accusation of this sort: but people do not despise half as much as is pretended; and I confess it has vexed me, with all its absurdity. One does not like to be thought ill of by any body, much less to be subjected to the hazard of it in the whole heart of a community. I thought of leaving my book to answer for me, and not taking any notice of the misrepresentation, unless repeated after a sight of it; but thousands will have read the extracts who will not see the book; and it is on their account that I shall trouble you with some further remarks.

I will put a case in illustration of my position with Lord Byron, and shew the cruelty of it besides, as affected by his character in particular. Suppose a rich merchant invites another merchant out to set up a joint concern with him; and suppose the latter a man with a wife and large family, and at the lowest ebb of his fortunes. The rich merchant advances the other two hundred pounds to bring him out (taking care nevertheless to get a bond for it from a friend); and after he is arrived, the loss of the beloved friend who gave this bond forces the poor man to accept from the rich one farther sums, from time to time, amounting in all to one hundred more. The joint-concern in the meantime goes on, but is trifled with by the invitor—is even injured by him in a variety of ways, is suffered to be calumniated and undermined by him with his friends, and finally is abandoned by him in the course of the year for an experiment in a remote quarter, and apart from any consideration of the person invited out. It is true, the rich man declines receiving his part of the profits of the concern; but it is only because they turn out to be nothing like what he expected; and when he leaves it, and might still do it service, and so keep his own proposed work alive, he never has another word of communication with the person whom he invited out, and whom he had found destitute, and left so.

This is a literal picture of the state of the case between Lord Byron and myself; but the worst part of the spirit of it remains.

I had scarcely put up under the same roof with his Lordship (and the nature of that occupation of a floor in his house is explained in my book, and was very different from any thing like entertained by him as his guest) that our “host,” if he is so to be called, commenced his claims upon our delicacy by writing disagreeable letters about us to his friends. When I subsequently remonstrated with him on this subject, he answered me that it was his way, and that he had “libelled his friends all around.” It is true I did not know of these letters at the time; but his libels of his friends were very manifest: the symptom was not encouraging; and the tempers he thought fit to try upon me in my poverty, prepared further for what I had to expect. This was almost in the very first days of our intercourse. I had hardly been under the roof with him at Pisa, when a very distressing communication from England forced me to urge him upon the subject of the intended work, and to beg as it were, in charity, the assistance which he ought to have come forward with in pursuance of his own proposal. He thought it sufficient to answer, that his friends had already been “at him,” to persuade him to have nothing to do with the work; and he was wanting enough to his dignity to taunt me with making him a party to certain distresses which had been communicated to me in the letter from England, though he knew how much they were bound up with my own, and had had my confession that I had assisted to cause them. This, however, is a matter which it is impossible to enter into, and which does not, of necessity, belong to the question. I only allude to it, that I may shew the melancholy of my position with him from the first, and how sure he was to make me feel it. In this manner his first contribution to his own work was made to appear a sort of forced obligation, though he was delighted to have the opportunity of printing it; and though, in the sanguineness of the moment, and the non-experience hitherto of what confirmed our forebodings, we did our best to entertain a good opinion of him, and to make others partake of it.

Most calamitous was it on every account that at this early juncture of our intercourse, my beloved friend, Mr. Shelly, was torn from me. I was thrown, per force, on Lord Byron for his assistance; he even offered it; and bitter indeed, for the first time in my life, was the taste I then had of obligation. The specimen I have mentioned in my work will suffice, and may be repeated. My family lived in the most economical Italian manner, and tried hard not to force me to apply to him for much. In fact, I applied to him for little, and he put me under the necessity of asking even for that in dribets, and for those he sent me every time to his steward. My cheek seems to burn against my paper as I write. Yes, I have to confess that I have tasted indeed the bitterness that prophecy of the poet’s addressed to himself, that he should know “how hard it was to ascend the steps of another person for bread.” Let the exquisite mortification of confessions like these, excuse me with the happier and the more industrious—I may add, with the healthier and the better taught; for the commonest rules of arithmetic were, by a singular chance, omitted in my education. I do not agree with the writer, who spoke the other day of the “degrading obligations of private friendship.” God forbid I should be such a traitor to those whose friendship elevated while it assisted me, and whom it is a transport to me, whenever I think of it, to have been indebted to. I see beyond that. But I am bound to say that I have not the less altered my practice in that particular; and not the less do I agree with the eloquent after-saying of the same writer, that it is “comely, and sweet, and exquisite,” to be able to earn one’s own sufficiency. I only think, especially in behalf of those who can enjoy leisure as well as business, that it should not be made so hard a matter to do so, as it very often is, by the systems of society and by the consequences they have in reserve for us, even before we are born, and in our very temperaments as well as fortunes: and I think also that the world would have been losers, in a very large way—far beyond what utilitarians suppose, and yet on their own ground—if certain men of lively and improvident genius, humanists of the most persuasive order, had not sometimes left themselves under the necessity of being assisted. The headlong sympathies that ran in their blood, and that diverted them sometimes from ordinary duties, have helped to carry us all forwards to those great waters of humanity which are now out over the world, and which shall assuredly give it a new level and a new life.

But I did not sit down to this letter, Sir, to take up your time with theories. I have written even more than was necessary for the real purpose of it, which was to say—that nobody has a right to judge of the spirit of my intercourse with Lord Byron from partial extracts out of the work in question; and that i protest against any opinion of it whatsoever, unproduced by an acquaintance with the work itself. I may put a case in the mean time, if I please, and ask the reader what he thinks, on the face of it, of my claims on Lord Byron as a partner, invited to set up a work with him under all the circumstances, and of my right to speak as freely to the public of him, as he spoke secretly and underhand of me. But for a complete view of the case I mus refer him (if he chuses to judge the matter) to the book itself, and to all the evidences it contains, for me or against: for of one thing he may be certain—that every jot of it is true. I love truth with a passion commensurate to what I think its desirableness, above all other things, for the security of good to the world: and if I did not, I should love it for the trouble it saves me in having but one story and one answer to all men, and being a slave to nobody.

I have a word, however, to add, with regard to those who have hitherto thought fit to make objections to my book, without knowing the whole of it. Some of these, I have been told, are really conscientious men, who are kind enough to entertain an ill opinion of me with pain; and I can believe that partial extracts might possibly have led them into that opinion. All that I complain of in this case is, that they did not sufficiently think of their conscientiousness, when they expressed the opinion without knowing all I had to say. Some of them, I believe, have already become sensible of their mistake; and are waiting to do me justice. As to the other anonymous writers, who have attacked me in a different spirit, I concede even to them the possibility of their having come to a similar conclusion, out of the same partial degree of knowledge. I will at present not stop to inquire how far they were led into it by motives of their own. But I warn them how, upon a better acquaintance with the work, they renew the same kind of attacks; as, in that case, I shall be compelled to let the public see, not only the whole amount of what I have to object to them on my own part, but what their pretended hero thought and said of them on his. And this, if they insist upon it, it will only be less easy for me to do, that it is to spare them in the mean time. I will then answer both their verse and their prose, if they please; and the public shall see who has the worst of it. Though I have told nothing but the truth, I am far from having told all the truth—and I never will tell it all. Common humanity would not let me. But I will not have my very forbearance turned against me by those whose sufferings would be tragic to themselves only, and comic to all the rest of th world.

John Wilson, Review of Hunt

It has been said that I undervalue the genius of Lord Byron, and think too highly of myself at the same time. I believe, that when I speak seriously, I am in the habit of using a tone of decision and confidence, which may produce mistakes on that point. It is owing to my having some decided opinions, and an exalted view of what may be done for the world; and it was the absence of such views in Lord Byron, and the presence of an eternal persiflage and affectation, that led me to think of what was petty instead of great in him, and perhaps really made me undervalue his genius. I can only say, that I heartily wish his head may have deserved all the laurels that were stuck on about it; to the concealment of his coronet, according to some, who nevertheless can never separate the two ideas. My own talents, unfortunately (if I may now speak of such things), I am not so conscious of, as I am of their having fallen far short of what I once hoped they would turn out. I have many infirmities, and nothing great in me but my sympathy with mankind. It is for this only I desire any honour I pretend to; and this, I allow, I cannot shut up, as I would an opera hat, and convert it into a piece of deference to the circles.

John Wilson, Review of Hunt

After all, Sir, I had no intention in writing my book but to give a true portrait of Lord Byron, as of a human being interesting to the times he lived in, and worth painting at any time. My spleen came across me, I own, as I called him to mind; but if I had been actuated by ordinary motives, I should have done it when I first returned to England, and made, as the phrase is, “a good deal of money by it;” which is what, in the ordinary sense of the phrase, I cannot be said to have done now. My bookseller had pleased me by advances of money; and it was a series of circumstances connected with that liberal treatment, which finally led me to make the book what it is. I have related them in the preface, if any body thinks it worth his while to know them. I wish, in his good nature to others, and his exceeding notion of mine, Mr. Colburn had not hazarded doing me a very painful disservice with my readers, by omitting, in its passage through the press, a concluding line or two in my notice of Mr. Theodore Hook. I had no wish to say any thing at all of Mr. Hook, and could, with pleasure, have omitted whole notice had Mr. Colburn wished it. But after my pleasanter recollections of him (as they now stand unqualified in the book), it became doubly necessary not to omit the drawbacks I had to make on a writer of his outrageous description; and my account of him, instead of ending with the two or three words now concluding it, should have terminated thus:—“That I wished he had stuck to his humours and farces for which he had real talent, instead of attempting to cut up a great man for the hounds, and taking a silver fork and a seat at a great table for the refinement that he has missed.”

Literary Chronicle, Review of Hunt

I have only one opinion more to guard against, which might be caused by something in my book itself; to wit, the face which the engraver in his hurry has been pleased to thrust upon me, and which might lead people to suppose that I am not only capable of calumniating my host, but of walking off with his tankard. I have no pretensions to handsomeness—my face is rescued from insignificance solely by thought; but I must really be allowed to say, that there is nothing in it which ought to take me to Bow-street.

I am, Sir, you obliged and sincere Servant,